Happy birthday to Javed Akhtar—The brave voice of reason

Born on this day in 1945, veteran film writer, poet and activist— a recipient of Padma Bhushan and former Rajya Sabha MP—Javed Akhtar turned 74 on Thursday


Ashutosh Sharma

Today when I look back at life, I see a river emerging from the mountains, battling with rocks, meandering through gorges, bubbling and frothing, creating ripples as it flows. Where once it broke its banks, the river has now reached the plains. Tranquil with waters running deep.

This is what Javed Akhtar writes about himself in his celebrated book, Tarkash (Quiver). No wonder why he chose a rushing river as a metaphor for describing his life journey. His following couplet provides an interesting insight into his art of living:

Kyoun darain zindagi mein kya hoga,

Kuch na hoga toh tajurba hoga !

(Why be afraid of what will happen in life; If nothing it will be an experience at least)

In the words of late editor Khushwant Singh, “Javed Akhtar was born with poetry in his blood.” While actor Shahrukh Khan believes that “Javed has contributed to Indian cinema more than many who claim to do so”, legendry singer Asha Bhonsle compares him with the great lyricists of yesteryears like Sahir, Shakeel Badayuni and Majrooh Sultanpuri.

Referring to the stark contrast between the “youthful and urban” songs of Dil Chahta Hai (2001) and “folksy and rural” songs of Lagaan (2001), his wife and noted actor Shabana Azmi quotes her mother, Shaukat Kaifi, in the Talking Songs, wondering “How can the modern and traditional reside so comfortably in the same person?”

In the book—which is based on an engaging conversation between documentary film director and author, Nasreen Munni Kabir and Javed besides a selection of his most memorable 60 songs—Shabana again quotes the following lines from a song that Javed wrote for Gardish (1993):

Hum na samjhe thay baat itni si,

Khwaab shishay kay, dunia patthar ki !

(We couldn’t understand this simple thing; Dreams of glass, world of stone)

“Such economy of expression, such restraint can only come from someone who has been through the grind; someone who uses irony as a shield to protect himself from hurt,” Shabana goes on to write, and adds that “It is a recurring motif in his work and sums up the essence of Javed Akhtar.”

Javed proved his mettle with some of the most significant film screenplays in 1970s such as Zanjeer, Deewaar, Sholay and Trishul, that he co-authored with Salim Khan. But it was film director Yash Chopra who gave us the lyricist Javed Akhtar.

Javed Akhtar and Shabana Azmi at the 63rd National Film Awards function in New Delhi.

This is how the master wordsmith defines poetry: “Between countries there is a no man’s land and I think the same space exists between conscious and subconscious mind. Poetry grows there.”

He elaborates: “And if those who listen or who read poetry are receptive, it reaches the same no man’s land that exist in their minds too. There are some conscious reasons why a poem is appreciated, but there are certain reasons that are not so obvious. And you say quite helplessly, ‘Is mein kuch ajib baat hai, there is some strange charm in it’. That charm is because the poem has made connections and appealed to the subconscious mind, evoking dormant feelings, thoughts and memories. That’s what poetry is all about.”

On what is required to be creative, he tells Nasreen: “All forms of creativity are an exercise in schizophrenia because you need more than one person within you to be creative. Art needs forgetfulness, passion, involvement and surrender. And yet it entails ability and skill that requires tremendous alertness, logic and sharpness.”

There are very few writers who share their literary work online for free. But one can read most of his books in various languages on his website. Interestingly, he happens to be one among the few Indian authors who are equally brilliant on Twitter, where he is both adored and admonished in equal measure. But he has certainly brought his wit and wisdom to the internet. In a literary festival in the national capital recently, he had quipped, “It leaves me deeply disturbed when I don’t get trolled by Hindu-Muslim communal bigots on a daily basis.”

In the social media obsessed world, his literary TV programmes like “Rediscover Poetry: Kabir ke dohon se, Mir ki shayari tak” on Tata Sky, have been immensely popular.

Currently, he is holding season five of the Classic Legends, a TV entertainment show wherein Javed explores the lives of great artists from the golden era of the Hindi film industry. It is aired on Zee Anmol Cinema, Zee Bollywood and Zee Cinema HD.

One can’t agree more with music maestro AR Rahman that “He is a fantastic conversationalist and hugely adept at expressing himself.”

During his maiden speech in Rajya Sabha, when the chairperson reminded him to conclude the address in 20-minutes, almost all the members were seen requesting the chair, “allow him to speak, we want to listen to him.”

It was regarding the Copyright (Amendment) Bill 2010. His stellar speech was equally lauded inside and outside the Parliament that eventually saw passage of the legislation.

His farewell speech, when he retired as Rajya Sabha member, was an ode to the country and its democracy. He impressed upon his colleagues—in the opposition as well as the government—to work together without thinking about the next elections, stressing that “adjournments” and “polarisation” will not take the country forward.

A self-proclaimed atheist, he is also known for gracefully debunking the theories of peddlers of spiritual junk food, on public platforms.

Notably, Tarkash which was his first anthology of poems, begins with the words of Krishan Chander, an eminent Urdu writer from Poonch, Jammu and Kashmir: “What have you done in your life? Have you loved someone with a sincere heart? Have you given a friend some good advice? Have you looked at the child of an enemy with love in your eyes? Where there was darkness, have you brought a ray of light? For all the days, you have lived, what was the point of this life...?”

“It is not that I have not done anything in life but I have done just a quarter of what I can. This thought makes me restless. Always...,” he concludes writing about himself, in the book.

A brave voice of reason, Javed Akhtar, in his literary work comes across as a postmodern poet, who is deeply immersed in a quest for answers to the questions that haunt every restless thinking mind. A personification of a river that meandered through deserts and yet didn’t disappear, a poet like him still has miles to go. And many more verses to pen!

Ek pal ghamon ka dariya, ek pal khushi ka dariya,

Rukta nahi kahin bhi, yeh zindagi ka dariya!

(One moment river of sorrows, another moment river of happiness; Never ceases to flow anywhere, this river of life! )

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